Staff Highlight: Jim Ford

Jim Ford, Education Specialist, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area I joined the National Park Service in January of 2016 as an Education Specialist. Before landing the job of my dreams, I taught high school biology for eight years. I found I communicated best with students in non-traditional classroom settings, and this inclination led me to teach in places like a marine biology institute on Catalina Island, California, the inner city of Chicago, and finally a juvenile detention center here in Minnesota.

As an Education Specialist for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, I work with partner organizations and school districts to develop and implement educational programming on the river. My primary responsibility is leading our Mississippi River Fellows program in partnership with Mississippi Park Connection and Wilderness Inquiry. This program provides urban youth with meaningful experiences on the river by paddling 10-person voyageur canoes through the heart of our park.

The educational programming we conduct on the river is aligned with state standards and illuminates the historical, cultural, and environmental resources of our park, but I think the real victory is just getting them out there! The data show that young people are spending more time with technology and less time outside. Our trips reintroduce young people to the natural world and the river that sustains them in hopes that they grow into responsible stewards of their watershed.

Our trips help contextualize the student’s sense of place in the Twin Cities, in the nation, and on this planet. They leave our river trips feeling that this river, this park, is a safe place to recreate and learn, right in their own backyard. One of my newfound mentors in the Park Service, Dave Wiggins, said it best, “We aim for their hearts, to affect their heads, so that they reach out their hands.”

See you on the river!